Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Why does my work matter?

After my daughter was born, one of my recurring prayer requests was that I would learn what it meant to worship God in the season of new-mommyhood. Up until then, it was pretty straightforward for me to answer questions of why I did what I did- I had seen my education as a given prep stage in life and then afterwards, being in campus ministry it was easy in my mind to explain why the things I did were of value to God and his Kingdom. I only found out what I was lacking in my understanding of God and what he desires of us in life when I could no longer measure what it meant to “glorify God” in the same ways that I had before.
Here’s a bit of what I typed up in a journal entry that became the first in a file I ended up naming “Vocation” (you’ll see why later):

The problem: I know to reject the non-Christian worldview on what the reason is for doing what we do in work. We don’t work for the sake of our own personal glory and fame or for the sake of pursuing wealth as our security and comfort.But it seems as if the Christian alternative given is that well, we can’t all be working vocationally in ministries, so we will use our jobs as ways to allow us to 1. do the types of things that would be done in ministry (Bible study groups at work, evangelizing to network of people you meet)  or 2. support the work of ministry (money, invite people to church, influence culture for sake of evangelism). The support for this understanding is often as follows:  The world is passing away and what’s more important and eternal? People’s souls or fill-in-the-blank? Shouldn’t we pursue heavenly, eternal  vs. earthly, temporary things?[…] There are different reasons why I know this perspective of the Christian life isn’t complete. One reason is that it’s not comprehensive to explain, for example, someone with a child with a severe cognitive disability or someone who is doing a job that doesn’t allow them to have influence or even much interaction with others. Another is that it ignores that we could be eating and drinking “for the glory of God” […]

Main Questions:

What does it mean to “give glory to God” in the earth-bound tasks we do?
What does it mean to do mundane things in faith?

I felt like I needed a course on the Theology of Motherhood! And it turns out I was looking for was actually best summed up by what has been known since the Reformation as the Doctrine of Vocation. That, along with my growing understanding of the doctrine of Providence since my ways at WTS have been monumental in shaping my understanding of my own calling as a mom. Here are some of the things that have helped and snippets of that “Vocation” file: 

  • The primary calling that I have in life and the way that I am to glorify and worship God here on earth is found in the Greatest Commandment.  These days, I often wake up and remind myself that my goal of the day is to love and fear God and to love my neighbor. Luther wrote about the Biblical Doctrine of Vocation during the Reformation when there was a huge gap between what was seen as spiritual (priestly) vs. non-spiritual work. He wrote about vocation (from “calling” in Latin) and how God has placed each believer in different stations of life (in my case, as a wife, mother, church member, etc.) with the purpose of loving people through the work we do. This means that when I get up and make breakfast, clean the house, play with my daughter, I can know that 1. I am called my God to do so and 2. It is meaningful and pleasing to God if I am doing it out of love for my daughter.
  • Love (as defined Biblically) is the ultimate goal. What that looks like will differ given different needs, different gifts, and changing seasons of life. One of the toughest things for me has been trying to find one way of living that glorifies God by looking at people around me or other seasons of life. God has been showing me that he is glorifying himself in different ways through different people. Why? 1. Scripture gives so many different ways that we are called to love depending on what the needs are- we are called to preach the Gospel, to speak truth in love, to care for widows and orphans, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned, etc. As tempting as it is to put these in order of priority, Scripture doesn’t do that (e.g. say that it is more important to preach than to care for widows). But love will see all these things as important- caring for the body and caring for the soul and how I  love my neighbor will depend on who is placed in my life and what their needs are. Right now, my husband and daughter are my most immediate neighbors and my daughter’s needs are taking up a certain amount of time and energy that will not always remain the same. 2. I have been entrusted with different gifts than people around me and am called to exercise them for the good of the church. (I’ve posted some helpful resources regarding this before.) 3. As a wife and mom, the shape of my days and time changes with different seasons.  The way it looks for me to worship and obey God today is not going to look exactly the same as what it meant for me to do so as a student or ministry staff worker. Therefore the orienting question (and my answer to why I stay at home) is “What does it mean for me right now to love my neighbor?”
  • The Biblical understanding of what is worldly vs. spiritual  is not mostly a matter of what is physical vs. what is immaterial but an issue of the heart. When the Bible talks about flesh or wordliness, it is not talking about physical need for sleep or making money- it is talking about the sinful ways that we pursue things other than God and the part of us that rebels against him. There are ways that I can do “spiritual” things in a way that is worldly- doing work in ministry in order to justify myself or for success. There are ways that I can do mundane, earth-bound tasks in a way that is spiritual- exhibiting the fruit of the spirit (helpful blog here about it), doing it out of love for others, etc. Therefore, as a mom, it is not as if the only spiritual things I do are when I am able to explicitly mention God or things that I do which eventually lead up to an opportunity to evangelize/disciple, I can do things that are earth-bound (diaper changing, feeding my baby) in ways that are spiritual when done out of and in love. How John Piper put it in Don’t Waste Your Life is “It is not a matter so much of what you do, but how and why.”
  • God has chosen to work in the world through human actions.  The Biblical understanding of Providence- that God is actively and sovereignly controlling and governing all things that happen in the world- has done massive damage on the sacred-secular divide that I had in my mind. If God is actively involved in all aspects of what happens in the world (providence) and working through people (doctrine of vocation), then he is working through me both when I evangelize and when I tend to my daughter’s physical needs. Luther has been quoted as saying that God milks the cows through the hands of the milkmaids. Similarly, what I do is important because God is working through me to answer my prayers for my daughter’s growth and protection in my day-to-day actions!
  • The work I do as a mom matters because God regards it as valuable. I emailed a question to Matt Perman of What’s Best Next  and this was really helpful from his answer: “What God requires of us most of all is not evangelism, but love…Evangelism and work are to both come from this motive. This makes our work eternal and enduring, as well as (successful, so to speak) evangelism….It is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. That needs to be our criteria.” Growing up with a misunderstanding of what was spiritual vs. not spiritual and working in ministry, it was easy for me feel that work (non “spiritual”)  is not as important or secondary to the type of work done in church ministry or missions (Bible study, etc.) and that work was only important so much as it led to these activities. This was perpetuated by things I learned in church (e.g. being a spiritual doctor is more important than being a doctor that only saves people who will one day die anyways.) This is not Biblical though because as written above, it is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. I realized that I had a wrong standard for measuring whether or not the work is important. God commands us to preach the Gospel. He also calls us to cultivate the earth and to work (Genesis 1-3). Love is the goal of both, and both are valued by God. As a mom who stays at home and is limited by my daughter’s developmental stage and my time in terms of how much explicit Gospel-instruction I can give, I can know that the work I do cleaning, caring, etc. matters because it is valuable  to God.
An important note that I have is that I am not trying to say that preaching the Gospel, the work of ministry, discipleship and world missions are not important. I love my daughter and so I desire for her to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, pray for her, and teach her to obey  me so that she can learn to obey God. I believe this pleases God. The main struggle for me though is to know that I can be pleasing and glorifying God also in the mundane and everyday work that I do- not only as a means toward discipleship and missions, but in and of themselves- when I work in faith and out of love. I pray and trust that God will give us all grace and instruction as we love him and our neighbors in the way he is calling us to today!
Here are some of the resources that have been tremendously helpful to me and I recommend to anyone wanting to know more about God’s calling in our lives in our work:

2 thoughts on “Why does my work matter?”

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